WESTCO Zephyrs excited to be back on the diamond

WESTCO catcher Creighton Dike catches a ball from assistant coach Cooper Buchhammer while going through a catching drill during opening day practice on Monday at Cleveland Field.

The WESTCO Zephyr players were happy to be on the field practicing as a unit for the first time in three months.

While the players were excited to be on the green grass of Cleveland Field in 90-plus temperatures, WESTCO Zephyr head coach Jeremiah Luber was equally excited to be back on the field after an unusual coronavirus-inflicted break.

“I am excited. It is 95 degrees out here and it is baseball weather,” Luber said. “All the guys have an extra pep in their step and excited to be here. It is a little different because normally when we are out here for the first practice, you have a couple layers on and it is chilly, and today we have some good baseball weather.”

The make-up of the WESTCO teams are unknown for now, but one thing that Luber is pleased with is the numbers that are trying out for a spot on one of the three teams WESTCO will field this year.

“We had a spike in numbers and excited about that,” he said. “We are planning on 35 to as many as 38 guys trying out. We are planning on having three teams and we are really excited about that. We have a big group of eighth graders coming up that will be able to field their own team.”

Last year, WESTCO started a third team of eight graders. The same will hold true this year.

“We have five or six guys back from last year’s team that had unbelievable experience,” Luber said. “They were the first team in six years to make the state tournament in Kearney and played some high competition. We have a good mix of young guys coming up and I am excited to come out and see these guys that I haven’t seen in a while. Some of these guys will be juniors and pushing for a spot with the Zephyrs.”

WESTCO will have 17 days to practice before their first games. High school teams can have their first games on June 18 and the Zephyrs will open up on that date with a trip to Wheatland, Wyoming. The Zephyrs first home game is slated for June 19 against Torrington followed by a trip to face Cheyenne Post 6 on June 23.

The Zephyrs lose three key players from last year’s 31-21 team in Harold Baez, Paul Panduro, and Jack Jones.

Key returners include Creighton Dike, Hunter McCollum, Jace Heineman, Porter Robbins, Dario Rodriguez, Tate Carson, Izaiah Torrez, Keegan Nation, and KJ Hartline.

“I can tell you just being out here that these guys are just excited to be out here after being quarantined for a little bit,” Luber said. “We are all just so thankful for the opportunity we get that half the states in the country don’t get. We are going to come out and do the best that it works and follow the protocols and just help the guys improve and have fun playing.”

Luber said that this season will be challenging with all the rules they have to follow, but the WESTCO organization will be following the new rules to set an example with the possibility of opening up other things.

“What will be different for now is only household members can come to the game,” he said. “I can’t look down the road to see if the guidelines might change a little bit on July 1, but where the fan seeding will be, no one will be allowed to be up in the stands so we will have fans down the rightfield line and fans down the leftfield line sectioned off where household members can come and watch. Obviously that that is disappointing, but by the end of the day, going through all these hardships, we are just trying to get out there so the kids can play baseball.

“Our parents are really supportive. I was really concerned when I saw the guidelines and how much more it would take on each household to make sure the kids can get to the game. Everyone is supportive in our program.”

Luber said the two weeks of practice will be beneficial for this team to get everyone on the right page. Come June 18, there will be a lot of baseball played in the next month and a half.

“We will be looking forward to be playing,” he said. “With us not being able to have contact with the guys [during the pandemic], the guys have been doing workouts at home, but I don’t know how much guys have been doing, so we need that practice time to make sure we are ready to go. I was gun-ho to play as soon as possible before the guidelines but then I thought about it that these two weeks will be really good to evaluate, get the guy’s arms built up, and get guys back in shape.”

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